It is a sad day indeed as Peter Jackson bids farewell to Middle Earth and closes The Hobbit trilogy with The Battle Of The Five Armies. Divisive between critics and audiences so far, with this final chapter Jackson proves the naysayers wrong and earns redemption through the most dramatic and crowd-pleasing film out of the three. Picking up just moments after the end of Desolation of Smaug, it opens with an exciting action sequence filled with fire as the dragon takes to destroying Lake Town. From this, the film continues and builds on its momentum right through to the ending (just the one this time), as elves, dwarves, men and Orcs converge on the Lonely Mountain to do battle for strategic, personal and financial gain. All the while, Bilbo faces a moral quandary as he watches Thorin descend into ‘dragon sickness’ through his obsession with gold, and must face betraying his friends to save them and prevent war.
Being a big fan of J. R. R. Tolkien, his books, and all of Jackson’s previous adaptations, it will come as no surprise to most that I loved The Battle of the Five Armies. However, before you dismiss my review as biased, it has to be said that whilst The Lord Of The Rings films are firmly amongst the greatest ever made, The Hobbit as a whole does have some issues that can be fully recognised having seen all three chapters. The second part, The Desolation Of Smaug, is easily the most problematic. Despite a much better extended version that is loyal to the book, it does suffer from pacing issues. This is mostly due to all of the additional material that Jackson and his team of writers have added to the films on the whole; some of which comes from Tolkien’s own writings but some which doesn’t, and the extra baggage of a love triangle and an elaborate yet unnecessary chase scene does somewhat drag down the always difficult middle film. Despite all the criticism and debate surrounding the added material and higher frame rates, there’s one aspect of this trilogy that seems to have gone unnoticed, and that is the over reliance on CGI. This is the biggest issue I have with the The Hobbit, and it’s most evident in this final film with some of the most cringeworthy video game effects I have seen in a while; especially when it comes to Billy Connelly’s character of Dain Ironfoot, who looks so laughably unreal that it takes you out of the action completely. In this sense, this trilogy of prequels suffers in the same way that Star Wars did, losing some of its charm amongst the gloss.
Now I know it sounds like I’m criticising The Hobbit big time, but it’s important to be honest about something you love, and I do love these films. Despite its flaws, the films have so much more on offer in terms of action, drama, charm and above all else, storytelling. Battle of the Five Armies is proof of this, and people who may have taken major issue with the previous instalments will at least find some consolation in this one. Jackson and his team clearly want to go out with a bang, and they succeed; with this coming in at the shortest Middle Earth film (2 hours and 20 minutes), the time flies by at a relentless pace with little chance to catch your breath. There’s action that will impress and wow even the most hardened critic, but Jackson never loses sight of our characters who emotionally drive forward the conflict and act as our window into the chaos. Seeing opportunity in Tolkien’s lack of detail of the battle (Bilbo is knocked out and wakes up to find that it is over), Jackson along with Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens create set pieces that not only provide a satisfying payoff to the love triangle but enhance the dramatic outcome laid out in the source material.
The biggest triumph of the film, though, is that it maintains what is for me the heart of the story; the relationship between Bilbo and Thorin that has cleverly been built during the previous two films and which forms the emotional crux of this conclusion. Just as much as The Hobbit is about Bilbo, Thorin plays a pivotal role too, and it is his fall into madness that makes him arguably a more interesting character. With the breathing space of a third film, this allows this particular plot thread to play out note perfect from the hymn sheet that is Tolkien’s book, an admirable commitment that elevates the prequels a great deal. Like all of the author’s works, The Hobbit tells a much wider political story that finally comes together in BOTFA, as the film depicts the chaos that can ensue once a tyrant has been removed from control as well as the ramifications that can occur from greed and a thirst of power; undertones of Iraq dripping into the fantastical. It may seem like a ridiculous comparison but is one that is undoubtedly there and gold could easily be substituted for oil.
The success of The Hobbit trilogy was always going to come down to this defining chapter, and whilst the long road has at times been rocky, it has led to a satisfying semi-conclusion. Jackson neatly wraps up the prequels but at the same time creates a lead into The Lord Of The Rings that will one day make for the most epic of marathon film watching. Stood alone, The Battle of the Five Armies stands as the most thrilling and tense film in this run. Epic incarnate, it’s big, bold, and at the same time extremely moving to the point of tears. Tears caused not only by the events on screen but by the fact that this may very well be the last time we see Middle Earth on the big screen. Much like the final Harry Potter film, you’ll watch this final instalment eager to see it play out to the end, but at the same time wishing it could go on for just a little bit longer, and in that sense The Battle of the Five Armies is bittersweet. Bittersweet that The Hobbit trilogy has come to an end, and that in its ending, cinema has lost a little bit of magic.
Image credit to http://www.lotr.wikia.com